Similar to the Bible, this book has been wrongly interpreted since its arrival, and its true meaning has been skewed and forgotten.
Several years ago Michael Lewis wrote his most famous baseball-economics book about the small market Oakland Athletics and their front office. Billy Beane, then considered the best GM in the game (and still considered one of, if not, the best), was scouring the planet for talent, and Lewis published Beane’s philosophy of finding whatever skill the market undervalued and acquiring players with that skill and other flaws for cheap, enabling a small market team such as the A’s to compete with the game’s financial powerhouses.
It’s a simple plan: be smarter, more creative, and work harder than your competition, and you can make up for a mind-boggling difference in resources. Sounds pretty intelligent, no?
Why am I writing a mini-review about a book that came out years ago? Well, back then younger players and on-base-percentage were undervalued. Consequently, Beane drafted college players over high schoolers since they were more likely to quickly make an impact. In doing so he acquired several prominent Major Leaguers you know by name and traded and signed others in order create a durable, solid pitching staff and a patient offensive line-up, even if it meant batting Scott Hatteberg lead-off, he the owner of one career stolen base at the time of his arrival in the Bay Area.
Later, Beane moved onto defensive metrics, which showed Johnny Damon’s tremendous value in centerfield, despite a poor offensive season and an arm that your little sister would scoff at. Others in the game grew up on Beane’s philosophies, and soon a new wave of GMs applied the grind-it-out-at-bat mentality that we now see from the best teams, along with statistics-based evaluation to their practices. Beane’s job became that much harder.
Still, year after year, Beane has managed to put together a quality team, one that can contend annually given decent health. Since 1999, the A’s have finished well over .500 every season but 2007, in which their string of injuries could only be explained by some silly curse that the media should think up if they haven’t already.
Given that his competition has become much more difficult, how Beane has kept winning? He’s followed the laws of the market: buy low and sell high.
Francisco Cordero is no Mariano Rivera, and the Reds are no Yankees, so throwing money around like a drunken sailor is probably not in their best interest.
How does this bring me to any relevance in today’s hot stove market? Look at what Billy Beane is doing this off-season. Has he signed any mediocre relievers to four year deals? Given any fourth starters $50 million? No. So far, he has essentially done nothing. And that’s what you should hope your home team’s front office will do as well.
There is no sense in making a big splash on a questionable contract unless you’re that close to a title, and in that case you probably can make a similar move at the trade deadline. This makes signing a better than average (in the inferior NL) closer such as Francisco Cordero insane for his new team, the Reds. All the money that is (over)spent on Major League talent when a team is not contending is money that cannot be spent on scouting and developing potential low-priced, homegrown franchise pillars. Which is a shame.
Do Fat Joe and Lil Wayne work in your team’s front office?
So, while teams lavishly throw money around like wannabe drug dealers in rap videos this off-season, if your GM chooses some fiscal sanity, deciding to sell his best assets at a time when they are overvalued in order to maintain long-term competitiveness, laud the guy (they’re all men right now, but look out for Kim Ng). Someday you’ll be thankful your team didn’t pay Torii Hunter $18 million in year four of his deal or Francisco Cordero $11.5 million THIS YEAR and the three years after it.
Buy low and sell high.